With protests taking place against asylum seekers, and being the eternal optimist that I am, let’s try and fully address this whole thing about “first safe country” and why it has no basis in either law or reality, along with a couple of other things.

First published in September 2020.

What the law says about ‘safe country’.

First off, what does the law actually state. The term ‘safe country’ does crop up in domestic UK law, as does the right of the government to return someone to such a country under certain conditions.

Here is where the fun begins, domestic law is essentially secondary to international law. You can’t pass a domestic law, or at least enforce it, if it contravenes an international one to which you are a signatory, at least in theory.

So, we are left with relying on what international law states regarding ‘first safe country’. Not a lot to be honest.

The main instrument governing refugees is the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, which makes no mention of it.

The closest you are liable to find is what is called the Dublin III Regulations, which govern responsibilities of EU states to process claims. It has a hierarchy of requirements to be taken into account and does not specify “first safe country” as law.

While “secondary”, for want of a better word, domestic law can reinforce international law. Ruling on one such case Lord Justice Brown made it clear that transit through other countries was permissible and should not affect someone’s claim to asylum elsewhere.

So, there is nothing in law to specifically state that an asylum seeker has to claim asylum in ‘the first safe country’, and in fact there is legal precedent for saying that they definitely don’t have to.

Why would someone cross countries though if they were a “genuine asylum seeker”?

For this part we will focus on those who intentionally attempt to reach the UK and reasons why they may not consider other EU countries safe. It is necessary to remember that safety is “subjective”. Where it might be safe for you and I may not be for someone else.

The EU supports intercepting asylum seekers crossing from, and returning them to, Libya. Indeed, it has helped fund many of the camps there. Libya, however is an active conflict zone where refugees are known to be sold into slavery.

When even President of the EU Commission Ursula von der Leyen makes it clear that member states have support in potentially violating international law, and definitely human rights, regarding asylum, it is not hard to see why some asylum seekers may get worried.

It is important to remember at this point, in regard to channel crossings, that we are talking about a very small number in the grand scheme, and that the UK takes only a fraction of the number compared to other EU states.

As for reasons why asylum seekers may not see some individual states as “safe”, let’s start with France. France has, among other things, multiple reports of attacks by police on asylum seekers and in July was found guilty of violating rights by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

Then we have Germany, which has arguably done more for asylum seekers than other EU countries, yet last year alone recorded more than 1,600 attacks against them. Not exactly a foundation for feeling safe.

Only the other week the Home Office proudly announced that it had returned asylum seekers to Spain, but skipped over how many are left without food, water or shelter, contravening the EU’s own reception conditions requirements.

Then we have Greece. It is hard to know where to start with the litany of human rights breaches conducted by Greece. “Pushbacks” leaving asylum seekers to drown, beatings, shooting them at the border, forcing them to sleep rough. All very safe I am sure.

And on it goes. Italy formalised anti-asylum seeker measures into law. It has also been instrumental in denying asylum seekers rights, and forcing many back into the Libyan camps to be tortured and sold.

Hungary has implemented anti-asylum laws which have been found to fundamentally violate the rights of asylum seekers, and other parts of international law. They have also essentially criminalised aid for asylum seekers. So, you know, really safe.

This is just a snapshot, it would take volumes to go into all of the abuses carried out by EU Members States which could lead to some asylum seekers not seeing them as “safe”, even were “first safe country” something with more basis than Priti Patel’s imagination.

"France and other EU states are safe countries. Genuine refugees should claim asylum there, not risk their lives and break the law by coming to the UK." – Priti Patel. / UK Parliament

Quick asylum Q&A.

Aside from issues with documents – airlines can be fined, or even immigration officials able to decline someone access to a flight if they think they may seek asylum – flights have been limited recently if you didn’t notice.

  • Well why don’t they seek asylum before they get here?

Hungary actually says that asylum seekers should do this. There is one minor issue though: you have to be in a country to apply for asylum there.

  • “Genuine asylum seekers” would go through resettlement options and come from camps.

A) Camps are already overcrowded meaning majority of refugees have to live elsewhere, and B) The UK has reduced its already limited resettlement options during COVID-19.

Channel governed by the law of the sea.

The English Channel is governed by the law of the sea, and it is not illegal to cross it.

“Activist lawyers” aren’t “blocking the Home Office from returning people”. They are in fact upholding the law. It is a basic requirement in a functioning legal system that everyone is provided with a defence, and it is judges who make rulings.

Screenshot of the video published on the Home Office Twitter, then later deleted.

There does need to be a solution though. Immigration enforcement accounts for the vast majority of the hundreds of millions of pounds which people complain about on immigration costing and for decades it has failed because it has failed to recognise why people seek asylum in the UK.

That is before looking at those who have no choice in where they end up due to traffickers and smugglers. If you really want to stop trafficking and reduce crossings, then the only option is a new approach, which must start with opening safe routes rather than protests.🔷


Check their Voting Record:

🗳️ Priti Patel

[This piece was first published as a Twitter thread and turned into the above article on 6 September 2020 with the purpose of reaching a larger audience. It has been minorly edited and corrected, and published with the author’s consent. | The author of the tweets writes in a personal capacity.]

(Cover: Pixabay.)

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